Portland Harbor Superfund

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Portland Harbor Superfund Site 

The Portland Harbor is located on the lower Willamette River, between the Broadway Bridge in downtown Portland and Sauvie Island. People work along the river and also use it for recreational activities such as fishing, boating, and swimming.

In 2000, Portland Harbor was named a Superfund site. Superfund sites are areas where toxic chemicals have been suspected of being released into the environment and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) determines an investigation of the type and severity of such releases is needed. Over the past century, contaminants have been released into the water and onto the shoreline surrounding Portland Harbor. The following contaminants have been found at many in-water and shoreline areas of Portland Harbor as well as in fish:

• Metals, including lead, arsenic, chromium, and cadmium
• Pesticides, including DDT
• Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), a banned coolant fluid
• Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), a combustion product
• Dioxins and furans, byproducts of industrial processes

These contaminants pose unacceptable risks to people, fish and wildlife. The primary way people are exposed to contamination in the Portland Harbor is by eating fish such as bass, catfish and carp. These fish, called resident fish, carry levels of chemical contaminants which may cause cancer or developmental problems. PCBs are the primary contaminant associated with most of the risk from eating resident fish. Young children, nursing infants and babies in the womb are the most sensitive to the chemicals. Fish advisory information.

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The EPA’s Proposed Clean-Up Plan: Alternative I, Hybrid 

The Portland Harbor Superfund Site covers an approximate 10-mile, 2,200-acre, stretch of the lower Willamette River – Sauvie Island to the Broadway Bridge. The EPA has evaluated alternative plans to determine how to clean it up to reduce health and ecological risks. The EPA weighed ecological risk, human health risk, construction duration, cost, and other factors. EPA will factor in “community acceptance” in its final clean-up plan. On June 8, the EPA issued a proposal to combine capping, dredging, enhanced natural recovery, and monitored natural recovery. This plan is less costly and intensive then some of the other plans. Clean-up would take about 30 years, with seven years of construction and 23 years for natural processing. The cost would be around $746 million. Clean-up costs would be split among the 150 responsible entities that polluted the river.

1,900 acres: EPA would use the monitored natural recovery method, which relies upon microorganisms, soil and flushing river flows to destroy, disperse or cover toxic chemicals. This would be the clean-up method for 85% of the Portland Harbor site. Many environmental groups are concerned that this method does not go far enough to clean up our river.

231 acres:  EPA would use sediments/soils, capping/dredging. On 167 acres, the EPA would dredge sediment to remove soil from river bottom. Materials would be stored in a confined disposal facility built into the river, sent to landfill, and/or processed at a water treatment facility. On 64 acres, the EPA would cap contaminated sediment with a confining layer, which includes the shoreline. Many environmental groups are concerned that toxic dredged sediments would remain in the water. 

60 acres: EPA would use enhanced natural recovery, which involves strategically placing clean sand over contaminated sediment to accelerate natural recovery.

View the Proposed Plan, supporting documents and administrative record:

  • Multnomah County Central Library, 801 SW 10th Ave., Portland, OR 97205
  • St. Johns Library, 7510 N Charleston Avenue, Portland, OR 97203
  • Kenton Library, 8226 N Denver Ave., Portland, OR 97217

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Resources 

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

Audubon Society of Portland 

Willamette River Keeper 

Portland Harbor Community Coalition 

Portland Harbor Community Advisory Group